Certified health and well-being at Pfizer

Pharmaceutical giant’s VIVA program leads to elite recognition in Quebec

If you work at Pfizer Canada’s headquarters in Kirkland, Que., you’ll pay more for a hamburger than a tomato sandwich at the cafeteria. But you’ll also be able to play basketball in the parking lot, ball hockey in the warehouse or borrow a bike during lunch hour. Leaving early on Friday is always an option, as is a spinning class at lunch or access to an ergonomics specialist.

All these initiatives and activities are part of the pharmaceutical giant’s VIVA program, which launched in 2007 to promote good life habits and prevention, support of employees and information-sharing, with a focus on exercise, nutrition, stress management and work-life balance, says Luc St-Pierre, vice-president of HR at Pfizer.

“Pfizer is an important stakeholder in the health-care business. In that context, we feel it is important for our employees to be part of some of the things we offer the general public. So we basically decided to bundle together a series of activities focusing on health care, focusing on activities that promote achieving a healthy mind and healthy living.”

The program largely contributed to Pfizer receiving the Healthy Enterprise — Elite certification presented by the Bureau de normalization du Québec (BNQ). Pfizer is one of the first companies to be certified under the standard, which launched in 2008 and is part of the Quebec government’s action plan to promote healthy life habits and prevent weight-related problems.

The certification looks at four specific areas of activity known to have a significant impact on employee health: lifestyle habits, work-life balance, work environment and management practices.

Umbrella approach

Before the program launched, Pfizer offered many of the same services to employees but had not grouped them under one umbrella or internal brand, VIVA, which was then marketed to the 700 employees at its Kirkland office.

“We went from having an offering that was not integrated, that didn’t really send a strong message to people, to an offering that is well-integrated and really enforcing the idea that good life habits are important to achieve good health,” says St-Pierre.

Before the launch, employees were asked what was top of mind for them from a work-life balance standpoint and, as a result, some components of the program were tailored in response. People mentioned, for example, they wanted to improve their physical fitness so Pfizer pumped up its internal offerings, by expanding an on-site gym and increasing lunchtime courses, such as aerobics and yoga, he says.

The company also invested in ensuring people had appropriate lighting in the workplace and access to an ergonomic specialist, looking at posture and improved layout in offices.

Created and run by HR, the VIVA program required upper management approval but there is always some discussion about what should be offered to employees and concern about out-of-pocket costs or the allocation of resources, says St-Pierre.

“Being a health-care organization, Pfizer really believes it takes more than medicine or medication to be healthy. It made a lot of sense to create a program here to promote physical activity, good eating habits and good stress ­management habits and work-life balance for employees.”

To spread the word, Pfizer held a number of events, including a fitness day with activities. It also created a dedicated website where employees can learn about programming and gain information about healthy living and activities.

A year-and-a-half later, the program is a big success, says St-Pierre, with a high participation rate. More than 80 per cent of employees say they have started modifying some of their life habits after participating in one of the activities, so VIVA is meeting one of its objectives — that employees take ownership and accountability for their health, he says.

And when asked if the program has helped with their engagement and pride, a vast majority of workers says “absolutely.”

“There’s no question the VIVA program has fuelled what was already high loyalty and engagement on the part of employees. It just confirms Pfizer is a good place to work, Pfizer cares about employees and (shows) the extent to which they’re willing to invest in these specific activities,” says St-Pierre.

Measurement and management

When started, VIVA’s main driver was to create engagement, make sure employees understood healthy living is top of mind with the organization and provide access to systems and services to bolster it. That has meant the tracking of participation and satisfaction rates, he says.

But another part of the mandate is to understand the impact of healthy lifestyle on some of the costs of doing business, and that is the next phase of the program: Measuring the impacts on areas such as the cost of benefits and the rates of absenteeism.

“We’re trying to identify... the extent to which the fact we decided to invest more energy and more money in health and well-being in the workplace, does this translate into savings on the benefits side — so on short-term disability costs, on long-term disability costs — and what impact does it have on drug consumption.”

Another area where Pfizer hopes to improve is in management’s involvement, says St-Pierre. Many of the leaders already participate in activities but there is also the possibility, in the context of regular meetings, of them reinforcing the importance of healthy lifestyle and encouraging employees to participate in on-site activities.

“Aspirationally, we see ourselves going there in one or two years but that’s another subject that will require some discussion of the management team, to make sure everybody is comfortable with this,” says St-Pierre.

“You’re getting into areas that are really, really sensitive but… management reinforces more systematically the importance of good health in the workplace. That’s an area where we definitely need to keep moving this.”

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